YMC unveils CodeRED notification system

GRANITE FALLS — Residents throughout Yellow Medicine County will soon have more immediate access to urgent emergency-related information.

Sheriff Bill Flaten informed county commissioners about the county’s upcoming CodeRED implementation at Tuesday’s board meeting. It will include partnerships with local cities.

Residents who have land lines, which total about 2,000 altogether county-wide, will automatically receive CodeRED phone calls. For mobile devices, owners can opt into the service by creating an account.

Flaten said the warning service will be free to everyone who participates. It comes with a data privacy guarantee, under which phone numbers will not be shared with any organizations that wish to conduct mass marketing or request responses to surveys.

“We’re working to let people know it’s available, and that there’s no downside to having it,” he said. ‘There are many ways that CodeRED could prove helpful. It will alert people to things they’ll want to know about.”

The CodeRED service was created in 2006 in response to a federal mandate. An informational website lists examples of how CodeRED has been used since it was first created, including one that warned Boston Marathon spectators of violence in 2013.

Flaten said some of the benefits of the system will include notifications about threatening weather, unexpected road closings, missing persons, fires, or hazardous material spills.

Residents can sign up for both phone calls and text messages. Another important feature will be access from distant locations, which will lead to alerts even if people are traveling for vacation or for work activities.

Nine different communities in Yellow Medicine County will be given the ability to send their own CodeRED messages for issues affecting only their own city limits. Examples might include street plowing progress in the winter and boil orders for drinking water in the event of potential water contamination.

Those who register for CodeRED can selected from a menu of cities. They can opt for just one, several, or all of them.

People living in places outside the county are eligible to receive Yellow Medicine County based information, even if they already participate in another county’s Code RED system.

“It will help that we’re planning to coordinate with the cities,” said Yellow Medicine County Emergency Management Director Casey Namken. “Some of the counties that already have it just went ahead and put the service out there, and then had questions from people who wondered why they were getting the land line calls. The cities will be helpful in creating public awareness.”

Commissioners also took an additional step at Tuesday’s meeting toward demolition of the tax-forfeited former public school in Clarkfield.

They approved a request from the IEA environmental consulting firm for a scope-of-work assessment for removal of asbestos located in parts of the building. It’s expected to result in a set of bids for asbestos removal.

County Auditor Janel Timm told the board that IEA has lowered the estimated abatement cost form $375,000 to between $265,000 and $315,000 after learning that a portion of the former elementary school wing on the west side of the campus is most likely asbestos free.

Timm said the total might drop more than that if further testing shows more zero asbestos results. The preliminary estimates was based on 128 samples throughout the building, under the state guideline that similar-looking areas not sampled could be considered to have the same asbestos levels.

“There are areas that for sure should be part of additional testing,” Timm said. “It’s not clear where there’s a changeover between older portions and newer construction. There might be more asbestos-free locations.”

The county needs to coordinate asbestos removal prior to demolition, which will cost $499,100 under a bid from the Frattelone Inc. contracting firm. IEA has estimated an additional $26,500 to $30,000 cost for asbestos-related site supervision.

Timm said IEA guarded against having a low cost estimate and then having to come back to the county with a higher than expected bill.

Even so, board members commented that the building’s history and prior asbestos removal should have been discussed in greater detail before any asbestos abatement estimates were compiled.

“They (IEA) should have talked to us,” said Commissioner Gary Johnson. ” They should have asked people what they know. Now we have to go back and do more tests. I’m in favor of approving the scope-of-work costs only because it will bring bids to the table.”

The board also considered information from County Finance Manager Lacey Rigge about the option to create a county-wide wheelage tax, which is used by 53 of Minnesota’s 87 counties, but decided not to proceed with the idea..

Information compiled by the Association of Minnesota Counties notes that counties have the option of creating the tax as an additional fee applied to license plate tabs. Fees are capped at $20 per vehicle, and are used only for the county’s road and bridge fund.

Wheelage tax exemptions are in place for motorcycles, mopeds, trailers, semitrailers, collector vehicles, and vehicles that are tax exempt.

Commissioner Ron Antony, while not advocating for a new wheelage tax, said there wouldn’t have to be a larger overall tax burden if the county tax levy is reduced by an amount equal to wheelage taxes collected.

“There would be a shift in the tax burden from property owners to motorists, with the biggest savings for farmland,” Antony said. “It’s based on the idea that all drivers should help to pay for highway improvements.”

Geographically, wheelage taxes are collected in most southern and eastern Minnesota counties but only in a handful of counties toward the north and west.

Commissioner John Berends said he favors not having a wheelage tax since it would be a new way to tax county residents, one that could lead to a higher overall tax burden from future increases in the general county levy.

In looking ahead to employee union contract negotiations scheduled in 2019, the board voted 3-2 to have legal consulting services from the Ratwik, Roszak and Maloney consultant firm. The company already works with several neighboring counties.

Antony questioned whether specialized legal advisement was necessary, noting that new labor market study results could simplify the contract negotiation process. He added that legal consulting could be approved later if negotiations would have to be taken as far as arbitration.

He and Commissioner Glen Kack cast the dissenting votes; with Johnson, Berends and Commissioner Greg Renneke voting in favor.

“I’m concerned about costs we might have by not having them there,” Johnson said. “It should help to simplify the process if we work with them from the beginning.”